The Canadian Maritime Workers Council, which includes unions representing B.C. dockworkers, argued that the Charter rights of waterfront employees are being violated by the screening process used to issue security passes.
The council, a coalition of unions representing 6,820 dock workers, argued that those who can’t get the special passes that allow access to restricted zones at Canada’s ports lose job opportunities, work hours and even merit-based promotions.
But Justice Peter Pamel dismissed the council’s application, noting that there are limits on the scope of the government’s screening measures and that individual workers have the right to appeal if they are denied the passes.
And he accepted the federal government’s arguments that the same issues raised by the council were already rejected more than a decade ago by the Federal Court of Appeal in response to a similar challenge in B.C. by the International Longshore and Warehouse Union.
Pamel also agreed with the attorney general’s position that any “constitutional concerns are best addressed in the context of the judicial review of individual decisions.”
“I dismiss the applicant’s application,” Pamel said in his ruling. “That said, this does not shut the door to appropriate challenges of individual ministerial decisions in the future.”
The union body had argued that the screening process includes background checks on workers, as well as on close associates and family members, which “restrict a port worker’s ability to maintain associations with other people for hobbies, church-related activities, social activities and community-related activities.”
“In effect, a port worker who is associated with a convicted or suspected criminal, even in the most innocent setting, is at risk of seeing his or her clearance revoked, regardless of the port worker’s actual relationship with the person, his or her vulnerability to influences or the probable risk he or she might pose to maritime transportation security.”
Pamel noted that the security regulations, which were introduced in response to the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorism attacks in the U.S., grant the federal transportation minister “the power to issue, deny, suspend, reinstate or cancel security clearances required to perform certain functions or to have access to certain port areas.”
“The minister exercises this power by considering regulatory criteria that include … consideration of a port worker’s associations with suspected or convicted criminals.”
In the current case, “there is no evidence before me that a union member’s right to liberty and security has been infringed,” Pamel said.
The case was heard in Montreal in October, with Pamel releasing his decision Jan. 30.
Postmedia has previously documented more than two dozens cases of members and associates of gangs, including the Hells Angels, working at Port of Vancouver facilities. As well, the Postmedia investigation found cases where longshore workers convicted of drug trafficking continued to work at the port. But at the time, the federal government said those identified did not have the high-security clearances needed to access restricted areas of the port.